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China emerging as global ‘peace maker’, benefiting from US lack of pragmatism in MidEast: Saudi analyst

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08 Apr 2023 12:04:54 GMT9
08 Apr 2023 12:04:54 GMT9
  • Beijing setting an example of how a global superpower should look like, researcher Salman Al Ansari tells Arab News.
  • Region is witnessing a “tsunami of peace” led by Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom sees itself as a ‘global equaliser’, he adds

Lama Alhamawi

RIYADH: Saudi political analyst Salman Al-Ansari said that the Middle East is witnessing a “tsunami of peace” and that the Kingdom is currently “waging a war on warfare” through its restoration of diplomatic ties with Iran and Turkiye.  

During an interview with Arab News on Friday, Al-Ansari recalled the phrase by Iraqi political theorist Dr. Omar Abdulsattar, who said: “Saudi Arabia is waging a war against warfare.”  

Al Ansari also answered questions about China’s new role in the Gulf, and how the vacuum traditionally filled with American presence is being exploited by other world powers. 

This comes following the talks held under the patronage of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, Iran and Saudi Arabia announced the success of the talks on March 10. The dialogue resulted in an agreement to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies within two months. 

“China is the one and only nation that has a substantial leverage over Iran, and the Chinese were the only breathing mechanism for the globally sanctioned Iranian regime,” Al-Ansari said.  

The Iranian regime has one choice, the political researcher said: “Either to change course and to act like a normal neighbor rather than a revolutionary one, or they may get called out and abandoned by their Chinese friends.” 

Historically, China’s relationship with the Middle East has been centered around trade, economics and investment.  

In the last few years, China has demonstrated its evolving interest in expanding its political relations in the region and strengthening its diplomatic agenda to eventually become a “global peacemaker,” as Al-Ansari described it.  

“China wants for sure to present itself as a global peacemaker and to set an example of how a reasonable superpower should look like. Overall, I think it’s a triple win…for all the three parties: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China.”  

China has invested heavily in relations in the Middle East while the US centered its focus on China and remained hands-off in its approach to facilitating peace agreements in the Middle East. 

“I don’t think the US has disengaged from the Middle East. But perhaps they didn’t engage with agility and pragmatism,” Al-Ansari said.  

“There’s no doubt that the US administration made a bunch of substantial mistakes with regards to its Middle Eastern policy since 2003,” he added, referencing the invasion of Iraq, the Obama doctrine and recent mishaps by the Biden administration. 

“But putting all of that aside, the US was and is and will always remain the Kingdom’s biggest strategic partner. We simply cannot just put these historic relations behind our back just because of some miscalculations by some American officials.”  

During the Jeddah Security and Development Summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia on July 16, 2022, President Joe Biden reiterated: “The United States is going to remain an active and engaged partner in the Middle East. 

“We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran. We will seek to build on this moment with active principle American leadership.”  

Since President Biden’s address at the summit, China has brokered the reconciliation of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran and hosted multiple meetings with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. These led to a tripartite agreement between the Kingdom, China, and Iran to restore diplomatic relations. 

Al-Ansari said that as the Kingdom sets itself up as a “global equalizer,” the role they have adopted “may not resonate well with the US for the time being.” 

He added: “But I think only time will help to normalize this new reality.” 

Also through a China-brokered deal, the last few months have witnessed a move for the resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria.  

As reported by Ekhbariya TV on March 23, 2022, Saudi Arabia and Syria are in talks to resume consular services between the two countries. 

Al-Ansari added that China considers the Middle East as one of the most important regions in the world for three reasons including the fact that “40 percent of China’s energy imports come from the region, from the Middle East.” 

Secondly, the Belt and Road Initiative, a China-led infrastructure development strategy, will pass through Saudi Arabia and Iran.  

A third reason, Al-Ansari reiterated is China’s ambition to emerge on the global stage as a force for good. 

So will the active Chinese role expand to attempt to resolve other Middle Eastern issues? Such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has deteriorated even further in the past few weeks. 

“China will continue to work hard to promote early and proper settlement of the Palestinian issue,” the foreign ministry quoted China’s special envoy for Middle East affairs as saying on Friday.

“China is deeply concerned about the heightened conflict that Israel has with the Palestinians and Lebanon, and calls for maximum calm and restraint from all sides, especially Israel”, Special Envoy of the Chinese Government on the Middle East Zhai Jun said when meeting Middle East envoys in Beijing.

Asked if the recent escalation will mean further delays to a possible Saudi-Israeli normalisation deal, Al Ansari said that the ball in the Israeli court now and that they would need to resolve their issues with Palestinians. 

“Will there be peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel anytime soon? I personally hope so, but I believe at the same time that the ball is in the Israeli court right now and they should seize this peace momentum in the region. Absolutely,” Al-Ansari said.

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